Tom: Tell us about your role Emily?

Emily: My role is Global Head of Digital Operations across search, social, and programmatic for the Volkswagen brand account. I lead a unique team responsible for the strategic governance and support of in-market teams across 27 different markets. 

A long journey

Tom: What are some of your challenges in the auto space?

Emily: One challenge unique to the auto sector is the fairly long conversion path. Buying a car is a high-consideration purchase and can be as stressful as buying a house or getting married for some people. Even in this fast-paced digital world, it can be months before they actually make the transaction.

That’s a long time to maintain similar communication styles across many different platforms, online and offline, with the end sale handled by dealers completely outside of our control. We’re not able to be as reactive as you might be with an instant purchase. For digital marketing teams, it means we need to have the most accurate tracking possible to optimise that journey for users. 

Tom: How are you going about optimizing that journey?

Emily: The long customer journey throws up other key challenges around data and automation. How do we link up all the different data sources and use automation to enhance innovation, drive efficiencies, and solidify a continuous user journey?

We’re launching a new website for VW at the moment which has enhanced personalization capabilities built in. It has the ability to score users according to who’s been interacting with the website more recently and for longer, and recognises them separately to standard visitors. This allows for a very smart online journey. For example, if you looked at a Polo last week, and return to the website this week, it will show you Polo as the hero image. 

The next step is to find ways to utilise this website data to personalise the journey through from search. For example, we’re currently looking at the anonymised search histories of users – if they’ve previously searched for certain key terms, we can show them a customised page when they come to the website, rather than the standard home page. 

Greener strategies

Tom: How do you use search intelligence to inform your strategies?

Emily: We use search intelligence at a local level to inform our strategies. For example, in Europe people are buying fewer cars due to mobility solutions such as Uber, Lift, car leasing, or healthier options like cycling. To help combat this decline, and in line with a greener mindset growing, there is an opportunity to really push forward the Electric Vehicle range in Europe.

EVs are a new technology and a new category. It’s much more expensive to convert in because people are still skeptical about performance and the supporting infrastructure. It will take much more investment to educate users and assure them that an EV won’t leave them stranded with a low battery on the way to work. Our aim is for VW to be seen as one of the best options for EVs and to convert diesel drivers into trying electric by showing how comparable they are in terms of performance and efficiency.

To win in new and establishing markets, it’s crucial to be able to benchmark how we’re doing at owning the space compared to competitors. Is our spend higher or lower than rivals? Are we getting a bigger piece of the pie and the category? Our local teams depend on intel from tools like Adthena to surface insights and optimize campaigns. Adthena gives them a quick and accurate snapshot of the market’s search data, including competitors’ spends, which partners like Google aren’t able to share with us. It gives us an extra layer of visibility that we wouldn’t otherwise have.

The human touch

Tom: How do you see the future of search and industry experts?

Emily: There are some interesting topics that will shape the future of search, from voice to clickless ads. Automation, AI and machine learning will be supercharged in the years to come as well and have a big impact.

I’ve been in the industry for a long time, have spent many hours in spreadsheets, and have earned my stripes in search. In the future, industry bods will have a lot automated for them. As agencies, we need to ensure our people still have a good grounding in the technical side, to be able to apply the human touch and ensure we’re focusing on the right insights and isolating what’s important.

There may, in fact, be more technical requirements, as we integrate with more cross-channel marketing. Personally, I’d love to see a space where we can fluidly bid across platforms outside of the ‘walled gardens’ of search.

Monitoring & targeting

Tom: How can Adthena help with industry challenges?

Emily: Adthena will be a great tool for helping businesses coming out of COVID-19 lockdown phases; keeping an eye on share of voice as well as competitor strategy when it comes to messaging. We do a weekly report for VW showing trends and recommendations for proceeding in certain European markets.

I was pleased to hear recently how Adthena’s new Smart Monitor sends you alerts when there is a brand infringement. The fact that full brand monitoring is a standalone product is great because different teams are constantly trying to understand whether they should be bidding on their own brands. This removes the constant worry about whether competitors are encroaching on your space for those marketers not covering their own brand terms.

Tom: Yes, Smart Monitor is a great addition to the Adthena artillery. And next to be released on our product roadmap is Enhanced Location Targeting which will be particularly insightful for the auto industry. It’s already rolled out in the US with state-level and zip-level view, and we’ll have city-level view in Europe in H2 2020 which I’m super excited to come and tell you about Emily.


PHD is a leading global communications agency with over 6,000 employees in 100 offices worldwide, and is a part of Omnicom Media Group.

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